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Olympics2012Olympics a concentration test for Canada's soccer women

Posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 | 10:22 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Canada's Rhian Wilkinson, left, got caught napping on the defensive end and allowed Sweden's Marie Hammarstrom to sneak in behind her on the cross and easily convert the chance for a 1-0 lead in Wednesday's 2-2 draw against Sweden. (Graham Stuart/AFP/Getty Images) Canada's Rhian Wilkinson, left, got caught napping on the defensive end and allowed Sweden's Marie Hammarstrom to sneak in behind her on the cross and easily convert the chance for a 1-0 lead in Wednesday's 2-2 draw against Sweden. (Graham Stuart/AFP/Getty Images)

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For the Canadian women's Olympic soccer team, Wednesday's 2-2 draw against Sweden could have been much more and underlines what continues to be the difference between Big Red and the elite squads at this tournament - lapses in concentration.

In terms of the game, it was decidedly their best at the London Games.

In terms of the result, it was what was expected of them.

And in terms of whom they'll face next, well, there is mixed opinion on the blessings of that.

The Canadian women's national soccer team drew Sweden 2-2 in the final match of the group stage on Tuesday. With the point, which came on a wild final day of women's soccer, Canada secured a quarter-final match Friday against Olympic hosts Great Britain. 

For their part, the Brits, in front of 70,000 fans at the famed Wembley Stadium, shocked a flat and lifeless Brazil side with a 1-0 win, giving them top spot in their group.

It's not the worst draw Canada could have seen. They'll avoid the U.S. and gold medal favourites until at least the semifinals. But for Canada though, its result on Wednesday could have been much more and underlines what continues to be the difference between Big Red and the elite squads at this tournament - lapses in concentration.

After a strong opening 15 minutes, one that saw Canada very nearly score before the crowd had taken their seats, the Reds needlessly gave up two easy opportunities against the run of play.

Rhian Wilkinson, who has proven to be quite adept at going forward for Canada, got caught napping on the defensive end and allowed Sweden's Marie Hammarstrom to sneak in behind her on the cross and easily convert the chance.

That play was quickly followed by an Erin McLeod goalkeeper error (her second that has directly cost Canada a goal at the Olympics), compounded by Lauren Sesselmann not picking up her mark and it all resulted in Sweden building a 2-0 lead.

Dictating the pace

A year ago, this kind of early deficit for the Canadians would have surely meant a loss and perhaps even several more goals finding the back of their net on this day. But this 2012 squad, which is coming around to the concept of meeting adversity head on, kept active in dictating the pace and managed to draw one back before halftime, as Melissa Tancredi converted a Wilkinson cross.

The second half would be much of the same, with Sweden allowing Canada to carry the majority of possession. And while the Canadians struggled to get the ball past half at times, when they did find their way into the Swedish final third, they looked dangerous.

The fruits of labour would bear in the 84th minute when, again, Tancredi, who now quietly leads the tournament in goals, found the net on a cross in from Christine Sinclair.

With only a few minutes remaining and a draw already assuring them of a spot in the quarter-finals, Canada at this point took its foot off of Sweden's necks and opted to coast down the stretch.

You can understand head coach John Herdman's thinking - play it safe given that the other group had yet to play - but given that the lowly South Africans were holding (and would hold) world champions Japan to scoreless draw, it was a missed opportunity for Canada to go for the jugular and claim top spot in their group.

The alternative quarter-final matchup wouldn't have been a whole lot better.

If Canada had managed to snatch the lead and finish atop Group F (and given its play at that moment it was certainly in reach) they would have drawn France in the next round. Most will remember the French as the squad that roundly showed at last year's World Cup that they are well equipped to handle the Reds, pouring four past the shell-shocked side.

But now, with its third-place finish, Canada will take on a home side that has yet to concede a goal, is riding the emotional high of being the host and a squad that just made the traditionally flashy Brazil look completely samba'd out.

Canada has not defeated a higher ranked country at a major tournament since 2003. If you put stock in such statistics, that should come as some comfort.

From all of the quarter-final matchups they could have potentially faced, Big Red managed to draw the one team that has a lower ranking.  

But, if you're like most who follow the beauty and grace of the world's game and shun the use of such rigid statistics, then it's likely you'll see this knockout round game for what it is - a test of Canada's concentration for a full 90 minutes.

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